Teen Health Plummets -
Doctors Urge Drastic Action

By Michael Day
Health Correspondent
The Telegraph - UK

"In the US there are now more young people with adult-onset diabetes than there are adults with the disease, and what happens in the US tends to happen here five or 10 years later."
Doctors will this week voice unprecedented alarm over the health of teenagers in Britain today. The mental, physical and sexual well-being of young people is deteriorating so much that drastic action is needed to defuse a "potential public health timebomb", the British Medical Association will say in a new report.
The report will show that one in five people aged 13 to 16 is overweight, one in five adolescents experiences psychological problems and up to one in ten 16 to 19-year-old women has the sexually transmitted infection chlamydia. It will conclude that "adolescent health paints a bleak picture of the problems facing young people in 2003".
Dr Russell Viner, a consultant in adolescent medicine at Great Ormond Street and University College London hospitals, who will launch the report, said: "It's not until you take all these figures together that you realise how worrying the situation is. It seems that adolescents are the one group whose health is actually getting worse.
"Better drugs are protecting older people from disease, and vaccination has brought huge improvements for infants.
"But for people in their teens, there are social health problems, which mean worrying rates of accidents, suicide, drug use, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases."
The statistics are stark: the number of 16 to 19-year-old women diagnosed with chlamydia, which can cause infertility if left untreated, jumped by nearly 300 per cent between 1996 and 2002. The number of 16 to 19-year-olds who have used cocaine rose four-fold, from one in 100 in 1994 to one in 25 in 2000. Since 1980, the number of obese 16-year-olds in the UK has doubled.
The association's warning comes a month after the chairman of the Food Standards Agency predicted that the epidemic of childhood obesity would see many of today's young Britons living shorter lives than their parents.
Sir Charles George, the medical director of the British Heart Foundation, echoed the concerns last week. He said: "In the US there are now more young people with adult-onset diabetes than there are adults with the disease, and what happens in the US tends to happen here five or 10 years later. That's what we're afraid of.
"That means a huge amount of extra heart disease, which will reverse the big improvements we have made in recent years. Some young people will live shorter lives."
Many campaigners believe that the solution to the growing crisis lies with parents and policy makers not health services.
Michele Elliott, the director of the children's charity Kidscape, said: "We've taken away their sports fields. They don't do physical education.
"We allow them to sit in their room with a computer. We need better sex education and we need to have it from a younger age, but we also need to be careful what we are exposing our children to.
"I don't think we should be letting our children have magazines that tell a 12-year-old girl how to have oral sex with her boyfriend. We've got to tell our kids that it's OK not to have sex. It might go against the liberal agenda, but kids need guidance and they need father figures; there are too many of them out there who have no father figure and no positive male role models."
Dr Trevor Stammers, a senior tutor in general practice at St George's Medical School in south London, said: "The significance of the lack of male role models for young people is now indisputable, whether you like the idea or not.
"We also need to be teaching our kids that there's nothing wrong with being a virgin at the age of 15 or 16."
Tim Loughton, the shadow minister for children, said: "We've got this timebomb that's going to cost us billions because the threat wasn't acted on soon enough." He criticised the Government for being a year late in launching its national service framework for young people, which will guarantee minimum standards of care for children and adolescents.
"Unfortunately, while the Government has introduced some worthwhile initiatives, these are disjointed and it has not got a coherent cross-department strategy to deal with this crisis," he said.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "Many of our major public health campaigns are specifically aimed at young people. On smoking, for example, we're targeting teenage mothers, for the benefit of both mother and baby.
"Our food in schools campaign is delivering lorryloads of fresh fruit to schools, particularly in deprived areas, where some kids simply don't eat fruit or vegetables."
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2003.




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